My first high end backpack was a Mystery Ranch, the Rip Ruck 24 I wrote about a few years ago. Like any good gateway drug it led to the second, the Mystery Ranch Urban Assault 24. You’re probably thinking on how lame that name is, and you’d be right, lets stick with just UA24 for the rest of this. Luckily the bag is about to be discontinued and replaced with a new similar line with a much better name. (see below)
Price wise these may look at little expensive compare to run of the mill backpacks, but you are getting a lifetime guarantee and serious quality. Additionally, in comparison to many other high end manufacturers, they’re actually priced really well. (i.e. Goruck, Evergoods, etc) It sells for about $230 CAD new.
The UA24 is made from 500D cordura, very durable but not nearly as abrasive as 1000D. It uses Mystery Ranch’s iconic tri-zip, a strange thing when you first see it but pretty great once you use it. The bags are designed to be “ripped” open for top access, and if you want to get at anything deeper in the bag you can fillet it open completely. It’s a really neat design, I find it better for my needs than the full clamshell flat open lots of people are in love with. Clamshell is great for travel or anywhere you can easily set the bag down and fully lay it open. My primary use is for camera gear outdoors though and clamshell bags can feel a little at risk of things falling out. Tri-zip avoids that problem nicely.
There are actually two bottle pockets on the outside but they lack any kind of stretch, you’ll want to go for thin bottles here, anything you do with them eats into the interior storage.
There’s a fairly large brain pocket on the top lid which is good for quick access. Only thing to note is that it faces downward when the bag is laid flat (which it often is because this bag does not even remotely stand up on it’s own, the bottom is severely angled) and things can fall out. Also note the bottom is mesh, so if you use the bag around lets say sand, things in here can pick some up. (ask me how I know)
Otherwise two more smaller mesh pockets on the interior of the bag at the top of each side, well positioned to get at just with opening the top of the bag. Two larger stuff pockets beneath them on each flap, good for clothing or fluids. Additionally an admin panel on the back of the main compartment which folds flat nicely if you don’t want to use it.
Lastly the UA24 has a fully separate laptop compartment at the back, protected by an aquaguard zipper. It makes laptop access extremely easy and will fit just about anything, worked great for my 17" Lenovo P1. It is of course, suspended from the bottom of the bag so you’re protected from drops. The overall compartment is actually quite large, so you can fit far more than just a laptop back here. (documents, tablet, I even had a first aid kit there at times)
The bag has a nice aesthetic in my eyes, no molle and overall very clean and minimal. It feels at home just fine in the office at least in my field, as well as outdoors, pretty much everywhere you might take it.
Comfort is fairly good despite not using any of Mystery Ranch’s adjustable yokes. While widely considered very comfortable, for my body it was good, but truthfully I’ve felt better. The UA24 pushes just slightly on my lower back, I suspect partly because the laptop compartment was seldom used, meaning the weight was further out from my back.
I think this is an exceptional bag for anyone who carries a laptop to and from work. It also makes a pretty great one bag travel option, the tri-zip really lets you stuff things in and compress it all down, and the easy laptop access would make navigating airport security a breeze.
Organization is great, one big external quick access is all you really need, and ripping open the top lid to get at anything else is functional and rather satisfying.
For the outdoors, I think the bag is slightly less well suited because a lot of space is given to the laptop compartment, and it’s hard to use when you’re hiking and doing photography. If you aren’t carrying a laptop most of the time, I actually prefer the UA21 for the outdoors. It can carry a laptop safely in a sleeve in the main compartment if needed, but it folds flat when not in use. You lose the exterior bottle pockets, and the admin panel, but otherwise this is a more comfortable bag that was better suited for my uses.
I eventually sold my UA24 to try other bags because I have a problem, but it was a really well designed bag to own and use.
The Upcoming Catalyst Series
The entire urban assault line is about to end and likely not even produced anymore right now, though you can still find stock in a number of places. It will be replaced by the Catalyst series of bags:
These look pretty promising to me. They will be made from pre-consumer recycled nylon, cleaner design, better grab handles, and some very nice colorways.
The UA24 becomes the Catalyst 26. Laptop compartment looks a little thinner to me from the video, but it’s hard to say without using one.
The UA21 becomes the Catalyst 22, and gains bottle pockets that appear to have a little stretch to them.
I believe these release Spring ‘23, and I hope to try a 22L at some point.